Occupy Tampa asks Mayor Buckhorn for a public park

11/02/11 Josh Holton & Kelly Benjamin
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:


Occupy Tampa protesters are growing tired of Tampa Police seizing their property. They are asking city officials for a permanent place to legally occupy.

About 10 protesters with Occupy Tampa lined the sidewalk on North Ashley Drive outside Curtis-Hixon Park this morning. Several of them were playing music. One protester named Felix said the police came almost ten times within the last 24 hours.

Officers have said that they are only enforcing city law, but protester Derek English said their interpretation of the law has been inconsistent.

Felix said officers showed up this morning, but they did not take any of the group’s belongings.

Legal observer Karel Soucre is still recovering from a neck injury he received when he was arrested last week, and he said he is still waiting on the medical bills.

Several of the protesters have tried contacting the mayor’s office in hopes of convincing him to provide a park for the occupation protest. Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn was at Gaslight Park today, where local food vendors were selling lunch to passersby. The mayor said he wanted to show everyone that downtown is the place to be. But Occupy Tampa has also been looking for a place where they can be in downtown without being arrested or harassed by law enforcement. Becky Rubright was also at the park today, but she was holding a sign that challenged the mayor to give them a park to occupy.

While TV news crews filmed the mayor, protesters held signs behind him. A Channel 13 camera operator even asked the mayor to move away from protesters in order to portray a more positive image for the story. When protesters tried to talk to the mayor on camera, he gave no response. After the TV cameras left, Buckhorn said that parks belong to everybody.

Despite some video evidence that shows a police officer shoving a protester without provocation, Buckhorn said the recent arrests are legally justified.

Even if the protesters were given a park, Buckhorn ruled out overnight camping for anyone.

Buckhorn said he supports the group’s First Amendment rights, but only within city law. He said that if the protesters occupied a private park with permission, he would support that.

City Council member Frank Reddick said that council will discuss whether to give protesters a park during agenda items at tomorrow’s meeting.

Gaslight Park was the original setting for the Occupy Tampa movement. Protesters say another reason they went there today is because police have seized their food and water during recent raids at Curtis Hixon Park. Reddick said he takes issue with the food and water seizures.

Occupy Tampa plans to march to the Tampa City Council meeting at 8:30 Thursday morning. Florida’s chapter of MoveOn.org sent out a petition calling for people to have the right to occupy any public space — including Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in Tampa — without police interference.

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